NAPLES, Fla. — Terry and Debby Kays recognize they face hurdles to develop a housing community that offers an extended family atmosphere for people with disabilities.

There’s the barrier of costly land in the Collier County area. There’s making the concept appealing to enough families. There’s potential objections from neighbors.

The Kays, who operate the local nonprofit advocacy group, Adonis Autism, nonetheless are steadfast in their focus.

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They want to develop what they call “cohousing,” where families live side by side in a community they run with a shared mission of caring for loved ones with autism or other disabilities. The concept is for safe, affordable and financially sustainable long-term housing.

The planned name is Osprey Village, and the Kays are searching for families to join them.

“What we need to do is support these families,” Terry Kays said.

The couple knows firsthand the predicament of families with a child or adult child with a disability.

Debby Kays has a son, Walter, 23, who has autism. He is living with them at home again in North Naples after an unsuccessful try at a local group home. He works off and on at a McDonald’s restaurant.

“There is the assumption that people with autism can’t do things, and that’s not true,” she said. “We want to help them find their self motivation.”

The idea of Osprey Village is similar to senior communities with supportive services, Terry Kays said.

“Cohousing is self-organized and a self-financed group of families that come together to develop a supportive community,” he said. “It is family driven.”

Osprey Village doesn’t have to be restricted to families with a special needs family member, Debby Kays said. There could be “typical families” who are looking for a supportive environment. It also could work for multigenerational families, she said.

The Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities has group homes for people who qualify — but in many cases the adult children remain at home, said Tara Tallaksen, an autism navigator for Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

When she works with the children with autism, parents talk about their concerns when their children become adults.

“It’s a crisis,” Tallaksen said. “It’s everywhere. It’s not just Collier.”

Adonis Autism, which organizes educational workshops and offers networking for families, began plans for the housing community in 2013.

There are about 130 family-run housing communities around the country similar to the Osprey Village concept but none in Southwest Florida or the region, Terry Kays said.

“One broke ground in Gainesville,” he said.

The communities can be designed in many different ways but an overriding principle is that families decide the structure.

“It does seem like a pie in the sky idea but it does work,” Kays said. “It has been done hundreds of times.”

He envisions the cost for each family at roughly $200,000 to $250,000 but much of that depends on the cost of land. A minimum of seven acres is needed but 10 acres is more ideal.

A key layout feature is a cluster of single family homes, townhomes or a combination with a pedestrian corridor for safety.

The Kays have enlisted a local architect firm run by Brandt and Michaela Henning, called Hlevel.

“We are interested in cohousing alternatives,” Brandt Henning said. “Cohousing truly is residents that design it.”

Henning put some concepts on paper for Osprey Village with townhouses and a community center for families to consider the possibilities.

The community center or “common house” is for shared activities, classrooms and other services. The common house would offer respite to families by sharing tasks, according to a brochure for the community.

“A lot of parents are single parents and have to work,” Debby Kays said.

When parents die, their family member with a disability can transition to a group home staffed by independent contractors with the state Medicaid waiver program, according to the plan. At the same time, the group home would have the watchful eye of the families in the community.

The Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities operates the Medicaid Waiver program which provides supportive services for people after they become adults at age 22 if they meet qualifications, agency spokeswoman Melanie Etters said.

The group homes licensed by the agency are for individuals with severe autism or other developmental disabilities, she said.

There are six group homes in Collier County and three are at capacity; three homes have 11 vacant beds, she said.

In nearby Lee County, there are 69 licensed homes and 32 are at capacity, and 37 homes have a total of 57 vacant beds.

When the Kays and Adonis Autism started working on Osprey Village, they had 10 families interested but some have since moved away. Now six families are interested, Debby Kays said.

“We need 20,” she said. “That is our goal.”

The Foundation for the Developmentally Disabled in Collier County is aware of the Osprey Village plan and will meet with the Kays shortly to get more details, Karen Govern, executive director of the foundation, said.

“I definitely admire what they are trying to do,” Govern said. “Anything that can be done to help families with an autistic child or with a developmental disability, I think is wonderful.”

Besides the few group homes in Collier County licensed by the state, there aren’t housing alternatives for people with special needs, she said.

The Osprey Village concept is one solution among a need for several solutions, Govern said.

© 2016 the Naples Daily News
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